There is a war on workers being waged by employers across the United States. The latest battle in this class warfare is being fought in the Pacific Northwest, in the port city of Longview, Washington. There is an attempt by the international grain trading consortium, EGT to break the International Longshore and Warehouse Union by allowing non-ILWU workers to load grain at EGT’s new high-tech grain elevator. Not only are EGT and the port authority lined up against the workers, the Federal Government is ordering Coast Guard ships and helicopters to escort EGT’s grain ship which is scheduled to be loaded this week. ILWU contracts have been in force on West Coast ports for 75 years. If EGT is allowed to carry out its plans, it will be a major blow to the ILWU and to workers everywhere.
This attack is only the latest episode in a calculated plan to break the ILWU starting with the port of Longview. EGT spent $200 million to build the most advanced grain elevator on the coast. This elevator was constructed with non-union labor. This choice by EGT was an insult to the community of Longview which suffers 15 percent unemployment. EGT had promised good jobs to the city, but in building the grain elevator, EGT gave a clear signal of their real intention to use the cheapest labor possible.
In September, as grain was being shipped to Longview via the railroads, 300 longshore workers and people who supported them gathered in Bellingham, Washington to block these shipments. They stopped the railway cars, blocking their tracks and dumping the grain out. The local police responded by arresting 220 people. Longview ILWU local 21 was hit with more than $300,000 in fines, and the arrest of 75 of its 200 members.
This incident was just the first blow in this battle. This week will be the real test. A ship will arrive in Longview, to load up on grain for export to Asia. EGT has hired a scab labor force to work the grain elevator. And for the first time in 40 years, the Federal government is mobilizing military force to support employers in an attack on workers.
EGT has the local city and state government on their side with their cops and their courts. They also have the Federal government on their side too. It’s clear what they are trying to do. In 1981, the Reagan administration supported the airlines in breaking PATCO, the air traffic controllers’ union. This attack on one of the strongest unions signaled the beginning of major attacks on workers all over the U.S. In the same way a successful attack on the ILWU today will be a signal to employers across the United States to carry out further attacks on all workers in the U.S.
It may seem like the ILWU workers have the forces stacked against them. But there is another story. EGT’s grain ship has had to go all the way to Panama on its way to Longview, because EGT fears how the pilots of West Coast tug boats would react to the ship. And there is a reason why the Coast Guard has been called in to protect the grain ship. ILWU Local 21 has called for people to rally at the port when the ship comes in. EGT, and its defenders in the Obama Administration are afraid that American workers themselves will begin to stand up against these attacks and come to the defense of the ILWU in Longview.
We’ve seen the potential for people to mobilize themselves. Last year thousands occupied the capitol building in Wisconsin to defend public workers against attacks on their union rights. Last year we saw thousands of people across the United States gather around the slogan of Occupy Wall Street to protest the staggering wealth inequality in this society. This attack on the ILWU has the same potential to rally those of us who are under attack. How many of us are suffering from wage cuts, attacks on our pensions, on our health care, and on our working conditions? How many of us are suffering unemployment, and uncertainty while big companies like EGT make millions in profit?
It’s high time for workers to stand up and say no to these attacks on our lives. We should stand in solidarity with the workers of Longview, and the ILWU. As the slogan of the ILWU goes, “An Injury to One is An Injury to All”.